Not matter how much you travel, there are some universally recognized things that everyone wishes were a little easier – like getting through security, finding the best seat on your flight, or getting around a city without wifi.
Lucky for you, we’ve found a few life-changing tricks that will make your travels stress-free and your adventures that much more enjoyable:
1. GOOGLE MAPS
Getting around abroad without Wi-Fi or data
Trying to navigate your way around Paris would be so much easier if you could use your iPhone like you usually do back home... if only international data roaming charges weren't such a b!tch!
Fortunately Google Maps has a work around! If you're going where the Internet is slow, mobile data is expensive, or you can't get online, you can save a map area to your device and use it when you're offline (I normally place my phone in Airplane Mode when I'm abroad). That means that you can use the Google Maps app on your smartphone (iPhone or Android) to get directions without Wi-Fi or using data! Here are the step-by-step directions!
Basically, you can download the map area for your destination (e.g. Paris) before you leave home and you'll have access to it the entire time your there! Even when you're offline or in Airplane Mode, Google Maps will track your exact location with the iconic blue marker, as seen in the screenshot to the right (don't worry, this doesn't use any data - so you won't end up with a surprise bill when you get home).
Once you have the offline map area downloaded you search and get directions to anywhere on the map. This works for navigating to place on foot (walking), by car, by public transport (e.g. bus/train), by bike and even by Uber!
Google Maps is pretty comprehensive but offline maps areas might not be available for smaller towns or more remote regions you'll be visiting. You can still pre-load the map area or directions on the app when you arrive at your destination and have access to Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately Apple Maps and others don't have similar features. If you try pre-loading directions in Apple Maps the app refreshes the next time you open it and anything you pre-loaded will be gone.
Fortunately lots of big cities now have free Wi-Fi access, but this trend isn't universal yet. Until then, Google Maps has you covered!
Getting a better seat on your flight
Nobody likes to be stuck in the last row of the plane, where your seat back doesn't recline all the way, and you're in the last group to board the plane, AND you're right by the bathrooms. Thankfully, SeatGuru can help you find the best (or at least avoid the worst) seat on your flight!
SeatGuru is an amazing online database that has nearly every airline seat map - which allows you to search for your exact flight and see seat quality that have been ranked by reviewers. Green are considered "good seats" and red are "bad seats," for the reasons given by the review viewable when you hover over the specific seat you're looking at. You can also view where the exit row seats are, where bathrooms are located, and other great tips for seat advice (like if there is limited recline or reduced leg room because of the bulk head or entertainment unit).
Once you find your flight's seat map, SeatGuru also lists useful information, like availability of AC Power or Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment systems, which can help you prepare what to pack in your carry-on.
3. PLUG & ADAPTER FINDER
To help you prepare better
This one might not seem like a "hack" but making sure you find the correct adapter for your destination can be a tedious task, especially if you're going somewhere not frequented by flocks of tourists. Luckily there are many great websites that have consolidated all the information on the World Wide Web into a user-friendly one-stop shop to help you find exactly what you need.
Whatplug.info is the self-proclaimed go-to "guide for the traveller with plugs" and for good reason. Don't let looks deceive you -- the site (which is ascetically very basic) takes you from the homepage to what you need to know in two easy steps! You only need to tell the site where you are from and where you are going.
The site then provides you with all the information you need on different voltages and on the type of adapters you will need.
4. TSA PRE-CHECK
Getting through airport security faster
You’ve probably seen the shorter, faster line at airport security -- the one where people whiz by you to the front of the line that you've been waiting in for 20 minutes. Why not be that person whizzing by everyone else??
TSA Pre✓® is an expedited security screening program connecting travelers departing from the United States with smarter security and a better air travel experience. Passengers considered low-risk who qualify for the program can receive expedited screening either as a member of the program or another specific trusted traveler group.
TSA Pre✓® passengers don't need to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or jackets when you go through security... so you'll never be stuck behind that guy who can't seem to get his shoes off again!
The service is available at more than 150 airports and with 12 major participating airlines (including the likes of American Airlines, JetBlue and Delta).
The catch? You have to apply in order to become TSA Pre✓® approved. This includes completing an online application and scheduling an in-person appointment at an application center. The application fee is $85 but, if approved, your TSA Pre✓® is valid for five years. If approved, you'll be given an Known Traveler Number (KTN) to use when making flight reservations and the TSA Pre✓® logo will be printed on your boarding pass at check-in. When you arrive at security, look for the signs for the TSA Pre✓® lane and you're done! You don't have to be a U.S. citizen to enroll TSA Pre✓® (but you do have to be enrolled in Global Entry, see below).
Don't think it's worth it? If you travel enough, it definitely saves you time and peace of mind. See what others have to say about it.
5. GLOBAL ENTRY PROGRAM
Getting through U.S. immigration & border patrol faster
Nothing is worse than getting off a long international flight (when all you want to do is get off the plane, pick up your bags and go home) than getting stuck behind a herd of people waiting to go through U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP). The good news: there's a way to avoid the long lines and get through CBP processing faster! It's called the Global Entry Program!
The Global Entry Program is part of the U.S. CBP's Trusted Travel Program. It allows you to get pre-approved clearance for international entry back into the United States. This special clearance means that when you get off your international flight you simply proceed to a Global Entry kiosk (available in the same area as the regular U.S. CBP processing lines), present your passport or permanent resident card to the machine, and complete a customs declaration. It's as easy as depositing a check at the ATM! The kiosk then issues you a transaction receipt and you're all set to go to baggage claim and then home!
The program is open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and citizens from Germany, the Netherlands, Panama, South Korea and Mexico. Joining the program does require a background check and in-person interview before you're approved to enroll - but if you're a frequent international traveler the time is well worth it!
To find out more about the Global Entry Program and other U.S. Trusted Travel Programs, visit the official U.S. CPB website here.